Enterprising fellows guide our future

The splendid headquarters of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Georgeson
The splendid headquarters of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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SOCIETY invests in the energy and creative ideas that will change the world we live in , says Edward Cunningham

The Royal Society of Edinburgh recently announced £4 million in awards for research, the majority of which will be carried out by academics and innovators based in Scotland.

A significant portion of this funding has been granted to individuals seeking to commercialise their technology under the RSE’s enterprise fellowship scheme, which is designed to help innovators become successful entrepreneurs.

The RSE currently supports 16 enterprise fellows, whose awards consist of funding and training to develop their business potential as they work to mould their proposals into viable commercial companies.

The range of businesses being supported illustrates the scope of Scotland’s current environment for new technology companies. They include Lonely Mountain Skis, a company based at the University of Dundee, specialising in sustainable skis for the free-ride market; and Kalitasha Ltd, a company headed by Liita-Iyaloo Naukushu at the University of Edinburgh which is developing innovative solutions for the global market for menstrual hygiene products

With funding from Scottish Enterprise, the BBSRC and STFC, our scheme allows awardees to focus solely on developing their proposals, whilst receiving one year’s salary, expert training in entrepreneurship, business development funding, and access to mentorship from the RSE’s business Fellows, and other successful individuals in the commercial community.

Our scheme operates within a thriving wider support network for aspiring entrepreneurs. We have enjoyed a successful history of interaction with the Converge Challenge, Scotland’s business competition for ambitious thinkers from academia, the research and business worlds.

Two recent entrepreneurs who set up companies through RSE enterprise fellowships – Kanika Bansal, founder of Medicen Devise Ltd, and Christopher Leburn, Director of Chromacity – also completed the Converge Challenge. They are now featured in a new video we launched to show others what can be achieved through our scheme.

While our Fellowships last for one year, the benefits have a much longer impact. We hold an Entrepreneurs’ Club twice each year, a prestigious grouping which includes investors, past awardees, business experts, professional advisers and RSE Fellows.

Earlier this month, the club met for a special event which brought together around 100 individuals from start-up and knowledge transfer organisations, the RSE, the Young Academy of Scotland and the Saltire Foundation. Attendees took part in an evening session of timed elevator pitching sessions, designed to stimulate and encourage interaction, and to connect and raise awareness of Scotland’s entrepreneurial network.

Some recent and current Enterprise Fellows won prizes for delivering the best pitch on the night. They included Margot McBride of Solutions for Tomorrow, a mobile X-ray equipment firm; David Hunter of golf data-tracking business ShotScope Technologies, which is being developed at the University of Edinburgh; and University of Strathclyde-based David Heath of the skin-care technology company Cutitronics.

Taking a wider view, our scheme demonstrates how the research community contributes to the country’s economic development and wellbeing. Since 1997, we have helped launch more than 130 companies across the UK, covering a broad range of sectors, from tidal energy generation and safety systems for the oil and gas industry, to communication systems for sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease.

Around 80 per cent of the companies formed have been successful; where this has not occurred, the training provided under the scheme has enabled the individuals to take on CEO and other senior positions in other hi-tech businesses.

Scottish Enterprise commercialisation director, Eleanor Mitchell, recently noted that enterprise fellowships play an important role in developing and enabling new high impact entrepreneurs. During their Fellowship, Scottish Enterprise assists by connecting each entrepreneur to networks and support that will help them succeed, drive their international growth and achieve their full potential. Most continue to access this support after the programme as their businesses develop and grow.

Such success thrives on a strong culture for encouraging commercial talent in our universities and research institutes. Spin-out companies from Scottish universities generate more than £300m for the economy each year. Equally impressive is the fact that Scotland has produced 20 per cent of all UK spin-outs in the last decade, despite having an overall population share of below 9 per cent. These figures illustrate why Scotland is rightly recognised as a world-leading centre for innovation.

There really has never been a better time to start-up or spin-out a company in Scotland. With such a strong record of success, the RSE’s enterprise fellowship scheme allows aspiring entrepreneurs to take those important first steps toward building a thriving business, while helping to grow Scotland’s economy and continue the nation’s great tradition for nurturing innovation.

• Edward Cunningham CBE is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Chair of its enterprise fellowship scheme.



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